Diversification among keys to trading postís success

By Mike Shearer, Correspondent June 29, 2011 09:17 pm
UNION — Roger spoils his mules.

What sounds like idle country gossip is actually the genesis of the name for The Spoiled Mule Trading Post in Union.

“We raise mules,” says Debbie Clark, “and I always told Roger he was spoiling his mules. So we just decided to call it The Spoiled Mule.”

The Clarks just marked the Spoiled Mule’s second anniversary in March, and they say business has been very good. Her bookkeeping and his knowledge of guns have been essential to the business’s success.

But perhaps an even more important factor has been the trading post’s diversification.

You’ve probably seen the small-town business that incorporates several “businesses” into one.

Well, at The Spoiled Mule, located at 239 S. Main in Union, you can buy a gun or knife, sell a gun on consignment, sell that stash of old coins, buy a saddle or tack for your horse or mule, pick up some fishing tackle or gourmet outdoor cooking supplies for your next camping experience, or you can browse a wide variety of collectibles and western décor including the work of several artists and artisans. 

If that’s not enough, you can get your bones picked clean. Literally.

Adina Ferguson, whose work is on display, specializes in cleaning skeletons and skulls.

“She has beetles at home that clean the bones completely,” Debbie explains. Calling her business Skull Haven Taxidermy, Adina oversees dermestid beetle cleaning, degreasing, whitening, and sealing. Customers can contact her at 541-910-0189 for mounting prices for a full range of taxidermy services.

Adina is the Clarks’ daughter. The Spoiled Mule is a family enterprise. Debbie and Roger met in 1976 while in the Air Force. Roger is a native Oregonian; Debbie was from Connecticut.

They opened the Boulder Market, which they still own,  in 1998. The market includes a service station and pizza restaurant. The fishing tackle aspect of The Spoiled Mule started at The Boulder Market.

The Clarks acknowledge part of their success at The Spoiled Mule is Union’s prime location just a few miles from the Eagle Cap Wilderness of the Wallowa Mountains, and they draw customers from everywhere. While business elsewhere in the valley may lag in the winter, that’s when hunters find their way to The Spoiled Mule.

“We’re starting to do well with scopes and optics,” Debbie says. “And our website (www.spoiledmule.com) has increased sales.”

The decor they sell includes many vintage items including Breyer horses, donkey figurines, and glassware. They recently started selling a line of fairies and dragon art that sold out fast. They sell skulls and hides from Clear Creek Trading in Sedona and sculpture by Regal Art of California. They also sell Indian artifacts they get from Enterprise.

Debbie says she thinks their success so far is that they give people a fair price. “It’s better when you’re buying coins or guns to resell, to make a little profit and keep your customers happy than make a big profit and lose their future business.”

The Spoiled Mule is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, and is closed Sundays.